This project is located in a housing development in the Western Sierra of Madrid. Set within a pine forest, next to an SPA (Special Protection Area) for birds, it forms part of an area that is rich in biodiversity, but currently under threat. The project consists of a sociobioclimatic, multifunctional cabin for a migrant couple and their extended family, as well as other, small animal architectures based around one insect that has become a defining agent in this ecosystem: the pine processionary moth. Together these make up a micro-landscaping and architecture project for humans and other animal species in which alternative ways of inhabiting this place are explored from a care perspective.
The main volume of the cabin is a very small, lightweight, prefabricated wooden structure designed to reduce to a minimum the amount of energy used in the construction, as well as energy consumption during its useful life. It was built from eleven pieces of pinewood, sourced from responsibly-managed forests in Soria, about 250km from the site. At the same time, in spite of the building's small size, it can be transformed to encompass the various different uses of a larger house within a relatively small footing, for example, allowing this couple to work from home as well as to comfortably accommodate guests. The solid pinewood used is a material with one of the lowest environmental impacts available, and climatically it is very efficient at minimising thermal bridges, offering a high degree of comfort in the home as well as an excellent energy saving. The uses of the dwelling expand by way of a multipurpose office equipped with transformable furniture specially designed for this project, and by rethinking domestic spaces such as the bedroom and the roof – both of which are often underused spaces in a house. Thanks to its small size, the sleeping capsule offers a high degree of thermal comfort as it quickly adapts to the temperature of the body. The roof is used as an outdoor living room. The heart of the interior is a kitchen-living room with a headroom of four meters. This height affords exposure to the sun in winter by way of a horizontal window high up on the south face, as the plot lies on a north-facing hill. In summer a shutter protects the interior from solar radiation, at the same time as releasing warm air, removing the need for air conditioning. To the north, there are large sliding glass doors and an elevated terrace, which effectively doubles the kitchen-living room area in summer. This terrace is surrounded by textile netting that serves as a barrier to protect both people and birds, preventing the latter from accidentally flying into the glass, as windows have been widely identified as one of the greatest dangers for birds. The roof of the cabin is used as a raised outdoor living room-garden, nestled between the crowns of the trees to form a living ceiling. This roof terrace is equipped with a hammock, a mobile piece of wooden decking and a removable projection screen, used as a summer cinema or for video calls with other members of this transnational family. Despite being outdoors, part of this living room remains private since its perimeter is delimited by a porous membrane composed of pieces of scrap wood left over from the building of the house. These have been placed discontinuously, allowing those on the terrace to see out while from the other side, particularly from a distance, they break up the outlines of the bodies behind them. Like other vernacular migrant architectures, whose decorations and atmosphere usually activate connections between places that are geographically distant, the built landscape of this living room recreates imaginary fragments of the South American landscape through the lilac and purple tones used throughout the surrounding membrane, reminiscent of the Jacaranda mimosifolia, which – like the couple who live here – originates in those landscapes, thus are brought into dialogue with those of Madrid. For example, this façade evokes the foliage of the thousands of jacarandas that cover Buenos Aires – the home city of one member of this migrant family – every spring. The flower of this tree is listed as one of the city’s hallmarks, even though it originated botanically from other parts of South America, and its habitat is now dispersed all over the world, just like that of so many migrant homes that are linked to this region. This membrane thus offers intimacy and at the same time representation for this non-heteronormative, transnational family. As a deterritorialising element, it recalls two archetypal, yet often overlooked characteristics of architecture: firstly, its role as an interface, not only with the immediate environment, but also with distant worlds, both those that exist and those that are imagined; and secondly, its very important political role as a tool for representing subjectivities and different ways of being in the world.
Despite the natural wealth of this ecosystem, it currently suffers from serious imbalances; for example, relating to the loss of biodiversity and the overpopulation of certain species. One of the actions that harms biodiversity in this forest is fumigation of insecticides to eradicate overabundant species, since this tends to affect not only the target species, but others indirectly. Perhaps the most worrying example of this, here as well as in other Mediterranean forests, is the fumigation that is habitually carried out to reduce the population of the pine processionary moth (an insect whose population has swollen in recent years, partly due to global warming). The justification usually proposed for this is that processionary caterpillars cause irritation in humans and pets, and also that their overpopulation can defoliate vegetation excessively. However, the processionary moth is an inhabitant of the pine forest ecosystem, and additionally, an important means of transforming plant biomass into protein – a fundamental element in the diet of many entomophagous (insect-eating) animals living in this habitat. Despite this, in the general collective imaginary, the pine processionary moth is considered an enemy in this forest, a vile body that needs to be eliminated. Spraying insecticides is a direct attack on the processionary moth itself, rather than treating the overpopulation problem through actions that are central to the care of a forest, which could include, for example, biological control of the moth by maintaining and encouraging the ecosystem’s biodiversity. In fact, even though populations of pine processionary moths have grown in recent years, as the current climate emergency has led to rising global temperatures, the increasing scarcity of natural predators has also been a factor. This, in turn, has partly been the result of contemporary forestry practices, which tend to discourage the presence of older, larger trees or dead trunks, in whose hollows many animals make their nests and find shelter. As an alternative, and a first step towards realizing a series of care actions, we have designed a micro-landscape of animal architectures on this site for different species of this forest. These are cavity-breeding birds – most of them feed on the of processionary moths –, such as great tits and blue tits, as well as hoopoes, and mammals that also prey on them, namely bats. Each species feeds on the pine processionary moth at a different stage in its life cycle (caterpillar, pupae, moth), and at specific seasonal times over the course of the year. These animal architectures consist of shelters, nesting boxes and feeders, the latter being for temporary and strategic use. This contributes to a natural control of the processionary moth, without excluding it from the forest ecosystem. These animal architectures are adaptations of those made by some of our neighbours, as well as associations of biologists and other environmental activists – both amateur and professional – in nearby areas. Their efforts are still in the minority and are often overlooked, but are nevertheless extremely important. This project is an ensemble of architectures for human and non-human animals that together form a path to explore diverse ways of caring for a forest and its social and biological diversity. On this site, care actions for caterpillars, moths, bats and other forest species come together with teleporting migrant architectures, close relationships as well as those online and at a distance, and materials with low-impact life cycles and responsable uses of energy. The (Synanthro)Love Shack is the continuation of a series of works through which we explore architecture’s ability to weave alternative relationships with environments both near and far; with those that already exist, and with future environments that can be imagined now.